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Tumbleweeds, p.42
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       Tumbleweeds, p.42

           Leila Meacham
 

  “Well, that’s it, Mr. Tyson,” he said. “I trust you and Mrs. Tyson will be very happy in the house.”

  “We’d have been happier if Trey hadn’t met his death this way.”

  “I can certainly understand that,” the attorney said. “I would have been happier putting Trey away with at least a little more fanfare, but I’m thankful his good friend, John Caldwell, has agreed to officiate at his burial. Trey thought the world of him. He seems like such a good man.”

  “He is a good man. When is Trey to be buried?”

  “This afternoon.”

  Deke drew up in surprise. “Trey’s to be buried this afternoon?”

  “Yes. At six. Very private, very secret. I’m determined to keep the information from the media. The medical examiner’s office in Lubbock was kind enough not to inform the press that his body has been released. It was sent to Jamison’s Funeral Home last night. If I can just get Trey buried with the least possible fuss…” He whipped out an immaculate white handkerchief to clean his glasses and fixed Deke with a myopic gaze. “Do you suppose you might like to stay for the burial? Trey respected you. He didn’t many people. He was most happy that you bought his aunt’s house.”

  “At six, you say?” Deke glanced at his watch. It was four o’clock. He had plenty of time to go to a florist and be back in time for the burial. “Sure I’ll come,” he said.

  They shook hands and parted, Deke to order a funeral arrangement at Martha’s Flowers in Kersey. “Red carnations,” he said to the owner since he thought Trey would have liked the color red. “A big wreath of them.”

  “We’re all out,” Martha said.

  “All out? I thought red carnations were a staple in a florist shop.”

  “Not when one customer comes in and buys all you have.”

  “Oh, I see. How about white ones then?”

  Deke was early at the grave site. Lawrence Statton had not arrived. Typical of June evenings before dusk in the Panhandle, the constant wind had begun to subside along with the heat. There would be a pretty sunset. That was good. Deke carried the wreath of white carnations to an open grave beside Mabel Church’s resting place. Trey Don Hall had been crudely written in cursive across the bar of a wooden cross that would serve as a marker until a tombstone could be erected in its place.

  Deke took a seat on a stone bench. Across the cemetery the tempered wind rustled the floral tokens left to the dead in urns by loved ones or placed against tombstones. Most were artificial. A few were real, left to wilt and decompose in the sun. A distance away, he saw two graves side by side heaped with tributes of flowers still fresh. Ah, there were his red carnations.

  He stared at the mounds reflectively for a moment, then got up and slowly walked toward them. An old familiar sensation thrummed in his brain. Even before he reached the ornately carved stones, he was fairly certain whose names were inscribed on them, who had bought the dozens of red carnations, and why. The card tucked among the blossoms convinced him. “Now, my darlings, rest in peace.”

  Deke let out a bereaved howl. Fool! Fool! Fool! How could he have been so blind not to have seen the obvious right in front of him?

  Like a deranged man, he raced to his car, grabbed his cellular, and punched in Melissa’s number. Let her be home. Let her be home.

  She was. “Daddy?” she said in a voice that seemed perpetually filled with surprise when addressing her father these days.

  “Melissa, I have something very important to ask you, and a lot depends on your answer. I want you to think back to the summer after your senior year in high school and tell me if my guess is correct.”

  A long pause. “Daddy, Mother and I are worried about you.”

  “Melissa!”

  Deke stated his question.

  “There were rumors to that effect among us kids,” his daughter answered, “but out of respect for her parents, we kept our speculations to ourselves. They were hurting enough, and everybody else seemed to have bought the story. Would Trey have had anything to do with her? Not on your life. He despised the girl.”

  Oh, me, Deke thought, recalling the only line from literature he remembered from his high school English class. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

  Chapter Sixty-Six

  The hearse was arriving, followed by Lawrence Statton’s car, and Deke saw John’s Silverado turning into the cemetery gate. He felt himself trembling when he went to meet the lawyer. “Mr. Statton, I’m terribly sorry, but some important business has come up that requires my immediate attention. I won’t be able to stay for the burial.”

  Lawrence glanced around his shoulder at the white carnations. “Thank you for the wreath, at least. That was very kind of you.”

  “I have your number. I will call you later with news you’ll want to hear.”

  “I won’t allow my curiosity to delay you, but I’ll look forward to hearing from you later. We could all use some good news.”

  Deke opened John’s truck door almost before the Silverado rolled to a stop. “Did you tell them?”

  “Tonight,” John said, looking startled. “I decided to wait until tonight.”

  “Thank God.” Deke blew out a noisy breath. “Well, don’t say a word to them until you hear from me. I mean it, Father. You’ve got to trust me. Where can I reach you?”

  “I’ll be at Cathy’s with Will until after dinner. We want to be together as a family before…”

  “Stay put there. I’ll need to speak with all of you.”

  “Deke, what’s going on?”

  “Can’t say now. I’ll tell you then. Don’t move a muscle until you hear from me.”

  Ten minutes later, Deke pulled into the driveway of the house belonging to the murderer of Trey Don Hall. Behind one of the doors of the three-car garage, he was certain he’d find his wife’s last white Lexus, the car the farmer saw from the seat of his tractor speeding away from the murder scene. The killer had gone expecting to shoot Trey at Harbison House and perhaps turn the gun on himself, but he had passed the object of his vengeance on the road. Recognizing the face behind the wheel, Trey would have pulled over immediately.

  Deke felt a moment’s pity for Trey in those final seconds of his life, the hurt and puzzlement he must have felt to see the gun raised against him by the idol of his youth. He withdrew a Colt Python from the glove compartment and slipped it inside his belt behind his back.

  The door was a few minutes opening to the sound of the bell. Deke was surprised at the change in the man standing in the doorway. He was cleanly shaven and dressed in fine casual attire. He smelled of a recent shower and expensive cologne. “Hello, Coach,” Deke said.

  “Deke!” Ron Turner bellowed pleasantly. “How nice to see you again. You’re just in time. Come in! Come in!”

  “In time for what?” Deke said, stepping inside.

  “I’ve just finished typing a letter, and you’re the very man to deliver it. Come on back. Want some coffee?”

  “A cup would be great, Coach, but isn’t coffee somewhat of a departure for you?”

  Ron threw him a smile over his shoulder. “Yeah, but sometimes a change is necessary.”

  There had been other changes since Friday, Deke noticed as he glanced around the kitchen and breakfast room. They looked freshly cleaned and put to rights, and sack after sack of beer and liquor bottles were stacked neatly beside the back door.

  “Those are going out to the rubbish for pickup tomorrow,” Ron said, following Deke’s glance. “Help yourself to coffee. I just need to slip my letter into an envelope. I won’t be a minute.”

  He was back shortly, licking the flap of the envelope. “You mind delivering it for me?”

  Deke studied him. Ron stared back, cool as mint except for a barely perceptible film of sweat on his upper lip. “Who’s the letter to?” Deke asked quietly.

  “Randy Wallace.”

  “Ah,” Deke said, taking the letter. “It was about your daughter, wasn’t it?”
r />   “It was about Trey’s betrayal!”

  Ron’s face suffused with emotion so violent, Deke thought a pinprick would have started a hemorrhage. He’s mad, he thought. Alcohol and grief and blind belief in his own interpretation of events had destroyed his brain. “What do you mean?”

  “I mean that I trusted Trey with Tara. I trusted him not to take advantage of her… weakness—out of respect to me, if not to her—and the son of a bitch got her pregnant.”

  “Pregnant? Oh, Ron…”

  “I didn’t find out until Tara was a month along that she and Trey had met secretly after he dumped Cathy for a couple of weeks after graduation,” Ron said.

  “And she told you he was the father.”

  “Yes!” Ron’s eyes snapped.

  “And it was an abortion she died from, not a ruptured appendix.”

  “A botched abortion. We had her only a month afterwards before the infection got her. We told the ruptured appendix story to protect my wife from town gossip. Not that it made much difference.” Ron’s mouth twisted. “The loss of our daughter was too much for her. Flora had congestive heart failure, but she died from heartbreak. As far as I’m concerned, Trey killed them both.”

  “You felt nothing for the boy when you pulled the trigger, Ron?”

  “Nothing. Zilch. He knocked up my daughter and left her just like he did Cathy Benson.”

  Sadness for the dismal waste of a good—a great—man gone wrong filled Deke from his boot tops up. He needed a moment. He was taller than Ron and looked beyond his head to a black streak of mold that had begun a descent down the once bright kitchen wall. Finally, he drew in a breath and addressed Ron directly to his face. “Trey was sterile, Coach—from the mumps at sixteen. He couldn’t possibly have gotten Tara pregnant.”

  Ron Turner jerked his head back as if to avoid a blow. “The hell you say. He fathered Cathy’s child.”

  “No, Ron. One of the reasons Trey came back was to confess to Cathy before he died that he was not Will’s father.”

  Ron gawked, his eyes rheumy prisms of disbelief. Deke could guess the trail of his thoughts. He was remembering the time when Trey fell sick during spring training his sophomore year. The whole town had held its breath waiting for the diagnosis of the ailment that had felled its promising quarterback. Mumps, the health report came back, and the population had expelled its breath. The local paper had carried the story of the head coach’s visit to his player’s sickbed and his admiration for a boy who had borne his pain and put off going to the doctor rather than disappoint his team and coaches. Deke could see realization of his terrible mistake dawn in Ron’s stare, but any compassion he might have felt was snuffed by imagining the look in Trey’s eyes when his old coach pulled the trigger.

  “Then, who—?” Ron whispered.

  “Not for me to say.”

  Ron crumpled against the countertop like a collapsed puppet. A sickly gray overcame the fiery red of his face. “John Caldwell,” he said, dazed. “Will Benson has to be John’s son… God have mercy. What have I done?”

  “How’d you know where to find Trey?” Deke asked.

  Ron pulled himself away from the counter and walked stiffly toward the fireplace in the sitting room to take down the picture of his wife and daughter from the mantle. Staring at it, he said, “Tony Willis told me. He ran into Trey at the high school. He’d stopped by for old times’ sake. He thought a reunion with my one and only All-State quarterback would perk me up. He suggested that I drive out to Harbison House and surprise him.” Ron replaced the photograph. “How’d you figure it out?”

  “I saw the red carnations at the cemetery on the graves of your wife and daughter and read the attached card. Then it started coming together. Melissa filled in the rest.” Anger at the tragic senselessness of it all sharpened his tone and forced him to say, “You killed a dying and innocent man, Coach. According to Melissa, Trey would never have touched Tara—out of his devotion and respect for you.”

  Ron shut his lids tightly and weaved a second. “She knew how much I cared for him…. Oh, God. Oh, Trey… Trey, forgive me, forgive me….”

  After a moment, Ron opened his eyes. “You know, Deke, you always were one hell of a policeman. Too bad you’re still not on the force. Tell you what. Give me a minute, and you can take me in. Randy Wallace certainly doesn’t deserve the honor. He was ready to hang Will and any fool would know he’s too decent to kill anybody. I regret with all my heart the hell I’ve put that boy and his mother through. They were like family to me. You’ll let them know how sorry I am and that I wouldn’t have let Will take the rap? I just needed time to sober up.”

  “You can tell them yourself, Ron.”

  “Right,” he said. “Well, let me go take a leak and get a blazer. I want to look good for the papers. Turn that coffeemaker off, will you?”

  He was gone for less than a minute when Deke heard the shot. For the second time that day, he called himself a fool, worse than a fool, when he gazed at the envelope in his hand. He’d been an idiot not to have guessed what Ron had in mind.

  WITH SILVA BESIDE HER, Cathy sat on the porch stoop of her son’s rented ranch house and recalled that this was the second time she’d experienced this moment. The first happened twenty-two years ago when she’d waited on her grandmother’s front porch for John Caldwell to drop by before he headed for Loyola University. She’d been three months pregnant then, Trey was two weeks gone, and the anticipation of seeing John’s battered pickup draw before the house for the last time had felt like a knife blade imbedded in her chest. Then, like now, she’d held out faint hope that John would marry her, be the father of her child. Now, like then, her dream was not to be. It was the second time she had lost him to God.

  She’d thought they’d been given their lives back the night Deke Tyson brought them news that Ron Turner had written a letter confessing to the murder of Trey Don Hall and then killed himself. She and John and Will had gathered for one last evening together before their son was to be formally charged with murder the next morning. But John had come to say that he had confessed to the killing and would be arrested in Will’s place. He had presented Randy a far more compelling motive than Will’s and the evidence to back it up. In great shock, Will had listened to his father explain the proof that was sure to convict him.

  “But, Dad, you were a kid back then, and you didn’t kill Trey!”

  “Neither did you.”

  “You’re not going in my place. I won’t let you. You’re too old!”

  “And you’re too young. You’re my son.”

  “And you’re my father!”

  They’d held each other, everybody crying, when into the wailing had come Deke’s ring of the doorbell, followed a short while later by Lawrence Statton arriving with his briefcase.

  The next day, better news, again delivered by Deke. He’d asked Randy what he planned to do with the bag containing the incriminating evidence against John Caldwell.

  Randy’s brow had puckered. “What evidence? You mean this?” He’d handed the marked box containing the pouch to Deke. “How about tossing this into the trash when you get back to Amarillo and giving Father John back his drinking glass?”

  Even with the storm clouds rolled away, they had all known their lives would never be the same. The town had once again shown its fickle colors in rushing to judgment against her and Will. Morgan Petroleum had granted Will’s request for a transfer. The café was still closed, with Bebe and Odell on paid vacation leave. And John…

  Cathy sighed. She’d assumed that with his reputation intact, his achievements unmarred, a son publicly acknowledged and accepted as his, John would continue his work in the parish he loved. She should have known better. He would continue to live out his penance.

  “I can’t stay, Cathy,” he’d said. “I can no longer accept from the Harbisons the love and devotion I don’t deserve. I can’t continue living a lie in their presence. They’ll be all right now without me. They’ll have Father Philip.
He’ll take my position at Harbison House, and no doubt in time Lou and Betty will come to dote on him as they have on me.”

  While they had waited to hear in what light the Church would view his long-ago transgression, she’d secretly and shamelessly hoped that the upheaval in his life and his love for her and their son would sway John to leave the priesthood and marry her. Trey had willed her his condominium in California. Its sale would give them the money to start over somewhere else.

  The bishop of the diocese delivered his verdict. The Church would take no action against John for the deed perpetrated before entering the Order of the Jesuits, but it would grant his request to be relieved of his duties as pastor of St. Matthew’s and director of Harbison House.

  “Let’s take a drive, Cathy,” he’d invited her the day he heard. “I’ll pick you up.”

  That was a week ago. It was a drive down memory lane. They passed by her grandmother’s house, now the home of a couple with two young children. The porch swing was still there, and a dog lay stretched out in the front yard, keeping watch over a toddler on a tricycle. Cathy’s eyes had grown moist.

  Next, they swung by John’s old house. The owner had attempted to renovate it, but halfheartedly. It still retained an uncared-for look, but yellow roses climbed the trellis of his mother’s gazebo in back. The appearance of Kersey Elementary School and the surrounding playground was virtually unchanged since she and the boys had pushed open its heavy, storm-fitted doors. It had remained a cheerless-looking place, the grass around it hard packed, unfriendly to tender young elbows and knees.

  Finally they had turned toward the high school. Neither had said much, but the cab of the truck was filled with their thoughts and feelings, their good-byes. John parked in the space where Old Red had spent much of its life, next to the spot that had been home to Trey’s Mustang. Summer school had begun. Voices from the ball field drifted to them as they got out in the June sun and mild wind. Like in the old days, they leaned against warm vehicle metal and folded their arms.

 
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